O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD - how long? Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. (ESV)
| || |
Monica, Mother of Augustine
27 August 2014
While tools are useful to carry out any number of tasks, when we call a person a "tool" it is not particularly complimentary. A person who is called a "tool" is either a means to an end, or is understood to be mentally incompetent. Either way, not so good. So the Apostle Paul calls the law "elements," which is also not a particularly complimentary name; and not just elements, but weak and worthless elements (Gal 4:9). In any case, not so good.
How does Paul get away with saying such things about the holy law of God? Whose side is he on? What good does it do to be dismissive of the divine Word given from Sinai at the hands of an intermediary? Doesn't it just encourage those who are well-established in their wicked life to be more completely confirmed in that life? If the Christians use harsh or disrespectful terms to describe the law, why should we be surprised if our enemies dismiss the value of the law?
The law is a tool. Not because it is incompetent, but because it is a means to an end, it is not an end in itself. God did not give the law to save but to disclose to humans their inability to be saved apart from divine grace. It is weak and worthless as a source of salvation. It is purely an earthbound tool. It has an earthly goal and will keep the soul committed to it bound entirely to the earth, without any heavenly hope or any of the eternal gifts. It certainly has earthly purposes. It destroys human pretensions to righteousness and restrains human depravity in the world. It clobbers the old Adam with both tablets. It threatens the self-righteous and self-satisfied with wrath and punishment, that they might be brought low enough to see their salvation must come from God alone, or that they might fear the divine retribution enough to be restrained from wicked acts that hurt human society. The expectations for the law are pretty minimal.
Most significantly the law must support and serve the preaching of the gospel and the divine promises. Here is the purpose for which it was fashioned by God. To strike down the claims of human holiness and leave us with no choice but to flee to God for refuge in His infinite mercy.
"Paul speaks very disrespectfully about the law when he calls it 'elements,' as he did earlier, at the beginning of the fourth chapter (Gal 4:3), and not simply 'elements' but 'weak and worthless elements.' Is it not blasphemy to use such names for the law of God? In its proper use the law ought to serve and support the promises and grace. If it conflicts with these, it is no more the holy law of God, etc. Then it is a false and demonic doctrine that only urges to despair. Therefore it must be repudiated and excommunicated.
"When he calls the law 'weak and worthless elements,' he is talking about the law as it is used by proud and presumptuous hypocrites, who desire to be justified through it. They do not understand the law spiritually, and works wrath. For in its proper use, as we have said so often, the law accuses and condemns the old man. Here it is not only a powerful and rich element but omnipotent and extremely wealthy, in fact, an invincible omnipotence and wealth. For if you were to compare the law with the conscience, then it is the conscience that is 'weak and worthless,' while the law is extremely powerful and rich, having more power and riches than all of heaven and earth could contain. So delicate a thing is the conscience that it trembles and turns pale even for a very minor sin. Therefore even one iota or dot (Mt 5:18) of the law could kill all humanity, as the history of the giving of the law in Exodus 19 and 20 testifies. Now this is the true and theological use of the law, but Paul is not discussing that here."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.9
Lord Jesus, help me to look only for Your grace and not become again entangled in the weak and worthless elements of the law. Amen.
For Kim Cheng, who underwent cancer surgery yesterday, that the Lord would grant her health and healing
For Tessa Pernoud who is in labor with child that God, who gives children to His people,
would protect both mother and child
For all parents, that they would have the courage to suffer for their children
For all those who travel for a living, that they would be kept safe under the care of their heavenly Father, who sends the holy angels to attend and guard His children
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014